Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Hard Frost Morning

This morning's frost was more intense than yesterday's, and lots of the leaves on my front lawn were palettes for Jack Frost, the artist.  What aroused my curiosity was the fact that on some leaves (1st photo), the frost formed on the veins and on others (2nd photo) it formed between veins.  I wonder why?  Downtown, as the wind picked up, lots of newly-dropped Liquidambar leaves covered the lawn just minutes after the leaf blower crew blew away yesterday's leaves.  Great use for fossil fuels, don't you think?  I picked up a few of the brighter-colored ones and photographed them in the warmth of my dining room.   I plan to do colored pencil drawings of some of them - the colors in my journal will outlast me, but the leaves will turn brown and disintegrate in days.  They'll be added to the soil in my yard, then become part of the next generation of trees.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

We Dance in a Circle

I find myself reliving moments of the past as if no time separated me from them. I stop in the middle of a déjà vu and realize that it was not I who walked this road so many years ago; it was Claire. She came to town from her family’s home in Little Grass Valley where her father, Andrew Jackson Quigley, raised hay and worked his mine. Her footprints, no longer visible, guide me. We walk together into the hotel where she met her future husband, my great grandfather.

The sign says 25 people call La Porte home. And yet when Claire first walked these streets there were hundreds, perhaps more than a thousand. They came to seek their fortune in the mountains of northern California - Italians, French, Chinese, Germans, Irish, and so many more. Each had heard of riches, or freedom, or land, and had left their home to follow a dream. Many found hardship and heartache. Others made a home in this wilderness, had children, died, and were buried. They sleep silently in the quiet graveyards among the pines.

What dream drew me here? And why do I keep coming back? I search for my source, to know how the vine of my life grows from the thickened roots of my ancestors – understanding that my story loops through the stories of those that came before, touching for brief moments but separate still.

I hear them - Claire and the others. They speak to me through letters, gravestones, the hallways and rooms of the hotel. I come to know them by walking the paths through the ruins of the mining camps - a piece of shoe or broken pottery - the scattered rotting lumber of what must have been a home. Our vines intertwine. I know myself. I am a daughter of California.

Linda J. Cayot

Occupy Oak Tree

Or It Pays to Anthropomorphize

I have been enthralled by the presence of Oak Treehoppers on two small branches of a California Black Oak tree by my driveway since September 8. During this time, I have also become engrossed, even participating, in the Occupy Wall Street/Quincy phenomenon. Reviewing the philosophy of one of my heroes in biology, E. O. Wilson, has led to my melding the two topics into this brief essay.

In a current issue of The Atlantic magazine, Wilson says, in effect, that everything important about human nature can be deduced from studying ants. That, of course, is what Wilson has been doing all his life with the biology department at Harvard as his home base.

I have watched my treehoppers sit still for almost two months now. I checked on them daily as two mothers brought forth litters of several dozen progeny each. The mothers were olive drab with small yellow spots and blended well into the oak tree branches, easily mistaken for the buds of next year’s leaves. The progeny, perhaps a fifth of an inch long when I first noticed them, had bright red and white horizontal stripes across basically black bodies. Not exactly camouflaged. Day after day, these families sat still, the babies clustered closely together while the mothers stood watch on one end or the other of each cluster. I took photos nearly every day, so I could confirm that they hardly moved.

The babies went through five instars (shed-ings), and became adults with longitudinal red and white stripes, quite a contrast from their mothers.

As I anthropomorphize, I see cooperation, patience, perfect adaptation, and beauty. While these traits might not actually exist in human terms, anthropomorphizing can suggest to us smarter ways to behave.

Wilson argues that in the course of human evolution, the emergence of social behavior has resulted in two conflicting tendencies. When we were nomadic food gatherers, genes for self-interest were selected for. When we began to sit around campfires and behave as social groups, genes for cooperative behavior were selected for. The current political situation seems to me to manifest these warring tendencies. I would suggest that the current crop of contenders for the Republican nomination for president and their supporters reflect the cutting edge of self-interest, while the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon reflects our tendencies toward evolving ever more cooperative behavior. Wilson, inspired by the ants, would place his bet on the cooperative genes as the ones that will inherit the future. I hope he’s right.

Last night, our first night of hard frost, has caused a bit of disruption in my treehopper colony. When I checked this morning, about two thirds of the members had disappeared and the few remaining were rather widely spaced and had moved about a foot toward the trunk of the tree. It was sad. The sight caused me to imagine them carrying little signs reading “The End is Near.” Then I realized they have invested in the future. Their natural life span is about over, but their eggs are within the tree bark, like me, waiting for spring.

Joe Willis 10/25/11

Scary Story

The Boo Brothers glided down the dimly lit streets, scarcely touching the pavement in their hurry. Pumpkins still glowing with wide open toothless grins cast contorted shadows across the entry ways of silent locked - up - tight houses, protected from the frights of the nights. The brothers paid no heed to the grotesque puffed up goblins, witches and spiders that camped out on lawns, splattered with dying autumn leaves. They floated across plastic gravestones, tore through spindly spider webs and tossed hairy tarantulas into bubbling cauldrons.

The brothers shimmied to a halt under an old decaying yew tree that guarded the entrance to a hauntingly desolate and decrepit mansion, crumbling under the weight of its macabre reputation.

“Oh, Boo, I’m scared, we’ve been out way too long, it must be midnight, mum and dad will kill us.” “It was worth it, I loved scaring those stupid kids dressed up as the walking dead, pirates, wizards, goblins and elves. What do they know about scaring someone to death, who do they think they are?” “Did you get a look at those other kids dressed up as ghosts? How lame is that?” “You really didn’t have to scare them that heavy, I mean no one is left on the streets, tricking or treating, we were so bad.” “I wish we didn’t have to sneak out of the house on Hallowe’en, all the other kids are allowed to go out.” “Hoo, it’s just the way of parents. They’re grown-ups trying to protect us from getting hurt by those crazy people that live in this town.”

Hoo just looked at his brother, but decided it was best to let this go. “Talking about getting hurt, we have to find how to get into bed without being seen, Mother will kill us with one of her famous looks and so will Dad if he is sober.”

Boo and Hoo floated up to one particular window and peeked in, the timing was not good. The moon, tired of waiting behind the clouds, decided to burst out and shine a light.

Dracula had had a good night of drinking and was just climbing into his coffin for a rest when the moonlight burst through, illuminating the still warm and still dripping blood on his lips, now running down his scant beard. He jumped out of the coffin, screaming at his wife, pointing a quivering finger at the window. “Do you see that, Medea, do you see those ghosts, I hate ghosts I hate them, they’ve come to haunt me, I can’t stand them, they scare me to death.” His thin scream, bubbling through the blood, curdled the night. His wife turned her head, a writhing mass of curling snakes, and her eyes, colder than death itself, pierced the black staring eyes at the window. Her twins dissipated into a fine dust, uttering ghostly sounds, “Mother, we’re sorry, it was Boo’s fault, we didn’t mean to……” Pouf.

Anne Gaudet


Now, those entrenched, beware, the people seethe.

They do not want your wealth, but just their share.

And then a solemn guarantee to breathe

A healthful draught of unpolluted air.

Now, those entrenched, the people crowd the streets

And take the risk of blinding pepper spray.

They challenge all uncaring county seats

For far too long they've had their selfish way.

Now, those entrenched, the people carry signs

That state their case with simple eloquence

As each its case of moral wrongs defines

With fervent hopes for change and common sense.

Now, those entrenched, awake and heed the people's cries

For in their angry hands YOUR future welfare lies.

Salvatore (Sam) Catalano November 18, 2011. 12:37 pm